THE CLAW: Hand Pain in Aerial Training and What to Do About It

GripAre you waking up with hands that have suddenly aged 50 years over night? Sore joints? Stiff fingers? THE CLAW? Yup. Either you’ve made like Rip van Winkle, or you’ve been training aerial work! What is that pain? Will it go away? Will chocolate cake help? (yes) Welcome to the world of…. arthritis.

The Most Common Cause of Hand Pain

If you’re encountering dull, achy finger joints in the morning or during training, chances are good that you are experiencing good old-fashioned arthritis**, which is quite common early in aerial work (glamorous, no?). Β Simply put, arthritis is just inflammation of the joints (read more here). When we begin our training, we’re asking hands, that haven’t been asked to do much more than hold a pen or wield a tennis racket, to suddenly manipulate our body weight and, you know, keep us from falling on our heads. No biggie. Any time you ask your body to do something hard, or even very different, you may experience some inflammation. Don’t panic! You’ve got options.

** If your hand pain is severe, or located in one spot, see a doc! Speaking of doctors, I’m not one. This post is not intended as a substitute for medical advice or care!

What to do About It

OK – you got this. Here we go!

  • Warm up your fingers before you train. Just like the joints and muscles of your shoulders, back, etc., your hands need some love too!
  • Stack your digits on fabrics (see the photo above). If you find your fingers sliding on top of one another, use a bit of rock rosin until your grip gets stronger.
  • Give it time! Those are muscles in there! They won’t get Herculean overnight.
  • Train your grip and hands. There are so many ways to do this! Train on your apparatus, yoga (manipulating your body weight), grip apparatus like Dyna-Flex or stress balls, free-weight training, hand exercises, etc.
  • Lotions and potions! There are a number of anti-inflammatory creams on the market if you find that the pain is following you throughout the day. I use Tiger Balm and Penetrex (that one sounds so naughty!).
  • NSAIDs. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofin are also an option.
  • Acupuncture! You may feel like a human pincushion, but acupuncture is one of the most effective ways I’ve found to deal with inflammation. It may even be covered by your insurance!
  • Trip to the doc. Pain getting worse? Feeling “grind-y”? It’s worth a trip to the doctor to find out what’s happening in there.

 

Click here for a good PDF of hand stretching & strengthening exercises!Β 

 

Don’t worry – it won’t last forever, and you’ll be grippin’ like a ninja! Love and pull-ups, Laura

  

 

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17 comments on “THE CLAW: Hand Pain in Aerial Training and What to Do About It”

  1. MonicaP Reply

    And for older newbies (I’m 48), I did one aerial silk class and was hooked! I knew I wasn’t quite fit enough so I decided to “train so hard” lifting weights, pull-ups, hanging leg raises and by my 4th aerial class I woke to swollen hands with no grip strength and couldn’t attend class.

    Finally after tests for arthritis, lupus .. I was diagnosed with carpel tunnel and trigger finger brought on by the stress on my hands. I’ll probably need surgery to correct this (we’ll see) and I may/may not be able to go back to aerial πŸ™

    So if you’re a mature adult and the aerial bug bites ya … e a s y into it. As a former gymnast .. I know better, but I’ve never found ANY form of exercise that excited me like aerial silk and so I went full force with my aging body and a brain that still thinks I’m 16 ..lol.

    Cheers,
    Monica.

    • Lewitwer Reply

      Wise words for us overachievers, Monica! We love to go full force! Easing into it and really listening to your body is so key (and so hard when all you want to do is FLY)! Speedy healing to you! πŸ™

    • Victoria Reply

      Bless you, Monica! I started aerial last year (I’m older than you) and OMG, it was the best thing ever. My hands and fingers hurt like crazy but I started on hand exercises right away and kept at the aerial training. It was better for several months, but now I fear that I will have to give it up. I was told I was developing trigger finger, too, and I know there’s arthritis in some of my fingers. It’s so sad: I totally love it and wish I could convince my hands to agree with me.

  2. Jennifer Reply

    I have been snagging some firm theraputty from the occupational therapists at work as well. After a few mins of squeezing that putty I can definitely feel some muscle fatigue. It’s actually pretty cheap on amazon.

    • Lewitwer Reply

      I didn’t even know that was a thing! Gettin’me some theraputty! Thanks, Jennifer! πŸ™‚

  3. M-love Reply

    Speaking of the hands and training- I want to ask if you teach with rosin? Why or why not?
    Thanks!

    • Lewitwer Reply

      Rock rosin only! :)http://www.laurawitwer.com/2011/08/12/tuff-or-buff-how-spray-rosin-can-sabotage-your-training/

  4. Jen_Eclair Reply

    Thanks so much for writing this up Laura – I’ve been doing silks for about 3 years now, at the grand old age of 33, and my fingers are not thanking me for it too much….couldn’t find much helpful about aerialists gripes online though! I’ve had loads of good advice now and found your blog really reassuring, our bodies are amazing at mending if we give them a chance. I’ve started on a regimen of glucosamine and cod liver oil (yum yum :p), plus power ball exercisin’ to strengthen those tricksy digits of mine (my physiotherapist friend swears by power balls for forearm and hand strength/therapy…if it strengthens my forearms then wa-hey!) and stretching/warming up my hands more regularly. I may even brave an acupuncturist after reading this! x

  5. Christina Reply

    Hello, I have been taking aerial yoga class, at least two times in a week.And I’ve done it for almost 2 months or more. Initially, I didn’t used to have pain in the joints but since the time I started to do advanced level yoga which needs a strong grip, I started having pain early in the morning as I wake up.Later, the pain is gone during the day.I don’t think I have inflammation because I’m 25 and I’ve always been super healthy. I wouldn’t go to a therapist for that.I was just wondering when the pain would lessen.

    • Lewitwer Reply

      Hi Christina! Arthritis (joint inflammation) doesn’t have a minimum age, sorry! πŸ˜‰ It’s really common in aerial work. Most artists/students find that it eases over about 6 weeks, but it really depends on what you’re asking your joints to do. If it gets worse or starts to really bother you, make sure to go see your doc.

  6. Layla Reply

    SO glad I found this post. I’m 36, and haven’t ever done gymnastics or dance or anything like this before starting silks this year. I started in March and was sore all over, but not really in my hands. After a brief hiatus (I actually broke a finger by kicking it when trying to invert; graceful, I know) I came back and am now experiencing this very pain daily. I work in IT (read: in front of a computer screen all day) but haven’t had issues with carpal tunnel or anything or the sort, so I didn’t think that was the cause. I’m almost certain it’s because I’m working “extra hard” to try to catch up to where I was pre-injury. I even bought a pull-up bar and have been trying to use dumbbells at home, which of course means I’m punishing my hand and finger muscles even more. I’m planning on getting something I can use at my desk to help work out the fingers. I need to get whatever strength I had back in the broken digit, too.

    (On that note, I’m going back down to beginner’s level next session just to get caught up a little better.)

    All of your suggestions are really encouraging – I hadn’t thought about lotions, for example, and I didn’t actually know this was what arthritis was. You learn something new every day. There are tons of arthritis/joint pain remedies out there – now I just have to go look for what’ll work best.

    Is this something I’ll just have to get used to? I know the 6-week period was mentioned above, but with the way this feels every morning, I’m really not looking forward to its being long-term. πŸ˜‰

    • Lewitwer Reply

      Hi Layla! Make sure you’re giving your hands a good warm-up before you train. It sounds like you’re trying to go from 0 to 60, and your fingers may not be able to keep up! If the hand pain continues, it’s worth a trip to the doc to see what she recommends (common therapies include NSAIDS, creams, etc). And remember – it takes time to build muscles, even in the hands. Go easy at first! It’s a really common issue, and I know you’ll find your way around it. You’ve got this!!! πŸ™‚

  7. Layla Reply

    Oh! I failed to mention above that I LOVE these classes, and look forward to them every week… even if I’m slow going. Just re-read the “Suck It Up” post, and am 100% there. (the fact that I’m looking for ways to get stronger and manage joint pain rather than quitting speaks volumes to me – I’m totally a Type A and want to be great at everything, and get impatient if I’m not!) Thanks for all the words of advice on this site – they’ve been incredibly helpful.

  8. Samantha Shea Reply

    Hi Laura!

    I always find your posts amazingly informative and I love your writing style!

    I actually am just getting back into serious aerial training after a about a year of lighter/ less frequent training .. And the hand pain was terrible at first but it’s mostly better now- however one stubborn knuckle (top knuckle on ring finger of left hand) is still incredibly tender to touch or grip and actually looks a bit swollen. I try to avoid NSAIDs as they actually have been found to inhibit muscle growth amongst other nasty side effects – other than ice and warming them up/ stretching them do you have any other advice ?? Does taping them help? Any particular exercises you recommend??

    Thanks!!

    • Lewitwer Reply

      Thank you, Samantha! Definitely see your doc about the swollen knuckle; unfortunately, inflammation like that can become chronic (and worse) if you don’t address it. You’ll also likely get a prescription for PT, and they can give you specific exercises. It’s also worth going to an acupuncturist! Good luck – fight the good fight! πŸ™‚

  9. Samantha Reply

    My hands hurt after my first silks class, but not as much as the rest of my ENTIRE UPPER BODY!!! Although my second class I was hardly sore at all but my hands really hurt. In fact that was a week ago and they’re still super stiff and immobile and painful. All three knuckles on the last three fingers on both of my hands… is this normal? It doesn’t feel like muscles it feels like the joints. I could use some advice. Will this go away in another week or should I go to the doctor?

    • Lewitwer Reply

      Hi Sam! Anything lasting more than 2-3 days, I always suggest my students pop into the doctor’s office just to give things a once over. When you return to class, ease up a bit. Ask your instructor for modifications that allow you to use less grip strength (I often have my behbehs wrap stuff so they can have part of their weight on the floor if they’re having grip issues, and we mix it up A LOT so they’re not using their grip start to finish), and follow your docs instructions to the T for reducing inflammation. I suspect the doctor will tell you it’s joint inflammation, and to take a bit of time off.

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